The Delayed Alarm—How Can We Prevent It?
Of What Avail Is All Modern Fire-Fighting Paraphernalia with This Problem Confronting Us?—Suggestions from Chiefs Asked for
IN the following article Chief Lutz asks for information as to the best means of meeting the problem of the delayed fire alarm. He wants to know how other fire chiefs have gotten around this question and the best methods of solving the difficulty:
We have many things and various methods of exterminating the fire demon, but of what avail are all of these if we have not that which is most necessary —the prompt alarm of fire?
The Wilmington Fire Department, in my opinion has reached the pinnacle of perfection. All the modern fire apparatus, tools, and equipment used in scientific fire fighting is now being used in this city. We have a first class Fire Prevention Bureau, consisting of a Fire Marshal, two regular fire inspectors and all men unfit for actual fire fighting, whose duties are solely to make Wilmington a safe place in which to live, so far as Fire Hazards are concerned. Continual inspections of our Fire Belt, comprising 55 city blocks are made by the inspectors to see that no fire hazards exist, and that all fire ordinances are complied with, inspections at regular stated intervals, not longer than a week, are made of all schools, moving picture theatres, other theatres and places of public amusement, all apartment houses, stores and garages, and manufacturing plants are inspected regularly.
Twice each year a general clean up inspection is made by the members of the various companies throughout the city, taking in all alleys, lots, dumps, cellars, attics, plants, stores, etc., and all fire hazards are quickly remedied, or the owners of the buildings are kept after until all the hazards are removed. In this manner about 40,000 inspections are made yearly by the firemen, and almost an equal amount by the citizens during our fire prevention campaigns. Our Fire Prevention Week Campaign is known throughout the country, and needs no mention here. To assist our Fire Prevention Division we have had an ordinance passed, similar to the Hoboken, N. J., ordinance, but even more elaborate so far as gasoline and inflammable liquids are concerned. This ordinance takes care of the manufacture, use, storage, accumulation, etc., of all explosives, pyroxylin plastics, inflammable liquids and materials, bonfires, rubbish, stairway lights, fire exits and escapes, and nearly all the common fire hazards.
Our drill school, consisting of a class room, drill yard, drill tower, smoke house, etc., is one of the best equipped schools of instruction for firemen in the country. We have a tower 68 ft. high and 12 ft. square, equipped for ladder and hose work, pompier rope and scaling work, our class room is for verbal and written instructions, calisthenics, etc. Our smoke house, the newest addition, built by our firement at a cost of only $289, is used to teach the firemen to differentiate between various smokes and fumes met with at a fire, and to instruct them in the proper use of the gas and ammonia masks. Our drill yard is for wet work and large ladder work.
Our fire extinguishment division, consisting of nine engine and three truck companies is well equipped. Our engine companies are equipped with tractor drawn steamers for reserve apparatus. Our pumpers are all modern triple combination pumpers, all steamers being in reserve. A combination wagon accompanies all pumpers to fires. All tools and equipment used for modern fire-fighting is carried on engine companies’ apparatus, including the first aid equipment and smoke helmets. Truck companies are equipped with all means for rescuing persons, fighting fires and salvage work.
Of What Avail Is All This Without Prompt Alarm of Fire?
Taking everything into consideration, I believe that we have a fire department that is thoroughly efficient. We have done everything that we possibly can do to combat fire, and in support of this contention, our conflagration risk insurance has been reduced from 13 cents to 4 cents, which I believe is the lowest that we can possibly go until we get a high pressure system in the city. But of what avail are all of these things if we cannot get a prompt alarm of fire? At the very start of our paid fire department in 1921 a fire was discovered about 6:00 A. M. but for some unknown reason an alarm was not turned in until 6:10 A. M., with the consequence that when the firemen arrived the old warehouse and printing shop involved was an entire mass of flames. Since this time we have had seven large fires, all resulting in a damage of more than $100,000, and all which could have been extinguished with quite a small loss had the alarm been turned in promptly.
Some Flagrant Cases of Delayed Alarms
In two cases, the watchmen of large plants and stores in the fire belt has gone to the fire alarm box, turned key and opened the door and waited for the companies to arrive. In one instance a crowd of people watched a fire burn on a railroad station roof for one hour and one half, each thinking that the other had turned in alarm. In another instance a man ran to a telephone after vainly trying to extinguish a fire with garden hose, and after losing seven minutes time waiting for city operator finally got the fire operator. A fire alarm box was one half city block from the plant.
In our last large fire, a clergyman, visiting the city for a convention had just retired when he hurriedly got up and informed the proprietor of the hotel that he smelled smoke this was at 10 P. M. The proprietor made a thorough inspection of his property and could find no fire. Shortly thereafter the manager of a large store was summoned by his watchman who told him that he smelled smoke but could find no fire. The manager and watchman made an examination of their property and satisfying themselves that their store was not afire, let the matter drop. At 1:10 A. M. three hours afterwards, a policeman discovered fire eating its way up the rear of one of our large stores, in the rear of the hotel first mentioned, the fire had burned all this time in a cellar enclosed in concrete and steel, and had just broken through. Two alarms were required to extinguish the fire, much damage was done and much inconvenience occasioned by the failure of the citizens involved to make a thorough examination of surrounding property when they were told of the smoke.
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“I will gladly welcome suggestions from any fire chief who has dealt with this problem, as I believe that we should all work together for this much desired result.
How to Prevent Delayed Alarm
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What Is the Remedy?
What can be done to stop this bad and costly practice and save the citizens a great amount of money and the firemen a great deal of worry and work? I have in mind an intensive instruction week for citizens and particularly watchmen of plants and stores, to be used in connection with Fire Prevention Week. 1 will endeavor to install in the minds of the citizens the necessity of promptly turning in an alarm of fire if they even suspect the presence of fire. I will gladly welcome suggestions from any fire chief who has dealt with this problem, as I believe that we should all work together for this much desired result.